Ross Perot has an act-alike/talk-alike, if not quite look-alike, running for president of South Korea. The difference between "Korea's Ross Perot," as Chung Ju Yung is often called in newspapers, and America's own is that the Korean version out-Perots Perot.
Chung is the multibillionaire founder of Hyundai, South Korea's largest business group. Approaching his 77th birthday in December, when the presidential election will be held, he out-Perots Perot by just about any scale imaginable.
Money? Chung's publicity machine officially puts his wealth at $4 billion, but some sources say he's worth $6.5 billion--$2.5 billion richer than Perot.
Entrepreneurial skills? Son of a peasant farmer, Chung built the Hyundai group from a side-street garage into a 42-company conglomerate of ventures ranging from motor vehicles to computers to petrochemicals to shipbuilding to tanks to railway cars. Perot built his fortune in computer services.
Most of all, Chung out-Perots Perot in the scorn he heaps upon his government for its "mistakes." So audacious is his contempt for the policies of a regime on which he once depended for huge contracts and easy credit that Perot, by comparison, seems the soft-spoken, timid intellectual. So proud is Chung of his qualifications, so confident is he of becoming president, that he is increasingly annoyed by the tendency of every Western journalist who interviews him to compare him to Perot. Indeed, interview applicants are advised not to include the P-word among the questions they are required to submit in advance.
The man who built the world's largest shipyard, who spat out Korea's first mass-produced cars, who constructed the Gulf's biggest port complex at Jubail scorns losers. He thinks Perot's a loser. Better that interviewers should ask Chung what advice he would offer Perot. Consider this imaginary dialogue, based on what Chung has actually done in his pursuit of the presidency.
Perot: How would you advise me to run my campaign?
Chung: Kick all your companies out of a downtown office building, draft legions of workers from throughout your business organization and inform them they are now "volunteers" for your newly formed United People's Party. Pay big money to your district leaders throughout the country and use your sales network as a vote-gathering infrastructure. Promise union organizers fat contracts if they bring out the workers' vote.
P: What about fund raising? Should I ask for donations?
C: Forget the donations. You're rich. Pay for it all. Spread it around. You only live once. Oh, and there are a couple of other gimmicks. Get the funds from some of your companies put into "secret funds" you can tap. You don't have that many companies? Anyway, you must have secret funds. Every billionaire has them. One more thing: sell back your stock to your employees. Offer them bargain prices, but get them to put up the cash. You can deduct the money from their paychecks. No problem. They'll love the sense of ownership. I unloaded most of my ship-building company that way--but held on to enough of it to make sure my sixth son, my right-hand man in my campaign, could still run it.
P: What if the FBI and the Security Exchange Commission get after me--and catch me or my people in some violation of the law?
C: Great! They will be martyrs. That's what happened to my fifth son. They held him in jail for four months, claiming he had diverted money from one of the companies I gave him. Now he's free and a hero. They also held two former top executives of the company. They're two of my closest advisers.
The authorities wanted to cut off credit for my companies and break up my group, but they figured the bad publicity was only helping me. There's nothing like persecution by the authorities to make you a cult figure.
P: All right, but how can I go around so freely criticizing those idiots whom I'm running against if my aides are in jail?
C: Don't let them intimidate you. The more they harass you, the harder you go after them. Listen to what I said in my nomination speech. My country's ruling party has already "admitted its own failure," I declared. Only I can "change our nation's trade deficit into a surplus." I said I not only knew the causes of the deficit but could offer "correct prescriptions" to cure them. Aren't you saying the same thing? If you ever lose confidence, just copy my speeches. You can read my lips. Your people will love it.
P: Well, yes, but I'm having a big problem with the media. They say bad things about me and ask nosy questions and don't quote the stuff I want them to quote. What do I do?
C: You set up a big press room at your headquarters. You order free lunches and coffee. You give the reporters free rides, pay their hotel and meal bills on campaign trips. You offer them envelopes with hundred- dollar bills inside. If they talk self-righteous nonsense about conflict of interest, stage seminars. Make them panelists and speakers. Give them honorariums. Don't worry, they'll come around.
P: Thanks, but I may be up against more than you realize. One of my opponents is the President, the other is leading in all the polls. How can I overcome the sense that I've already lost?
C: Denounce all the polls as fraudulent. Demand a government order to stop the polling. Say they're a trick of the FBI. (My security chief once worked for your FBI. He can advise you.) Then, after the government is forced to ban polling, conduct your own poll. Form a social-science organization, pay the members secretly, ask them who they favor and print the results on the brand new printing press that publishes your speeches and party propaganda.
You can promise anything. I'm saying our people's average salary will triple by the year 2000, if I'm elected. I'm saying small government is better than big government and calling for a halt to government intervention in business. At the same time, I'm promising to restructure the whole economy. I'm appealing to the patriotism of our people by saying our economy will be a world powerhouse by the end of my first term as president. I'm going to reverse inflation, cut the national debt in half and lower interest rates. I promise.
P: Excuse me, Mr. Chung. I've promised most of those things, but I'm afraid of losing what little credibility I have. How can I talk like that when no one believes I will carry out my pledges?
C: Are you afraid to guarantee anything your voters want? Is there any promise you are scared to make? You have already promised to lower your federal debt and reverse the trade deficit. Do you hesitate to guarantee double wages? Mr. Perot, I have met you and, believe me, you are no Chung Ju Yung.